New Crude-by-Rail Rule Restricts Access to Information

A May 1 Federal Railroad Administration rule on moving crude by rail was supposed to make routing information more accessible to the the public, but due to lobbying by the rail industry, it will do just the opposite.

2 minute read

June 27, 2015, 1:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

In a long-running battle on disclosure of routing information on oil trains, now known as "high-hazard flammable trains," the new May 1 rule decisively sides with the rail industry. Recent Maryland court filings show that a new Department of Transportation rule (posted here) that centered on replacement of older tank cars but also was supposed to increase transparency in the dangerous movement of crude by rail show that it has done just the opposite.

"(T)wo major oil haulers have cited the department’s new rule to justify their argument that no one except emergency responders should know what routes the trains use or how many travel through each state during a given week," writes Curtis Tate of McClatchy Washington Bureau. 

The department’s rule was expected to expand the existing disclosure requirements. In its 395-page rule [PDF], the department acknowledged an overwhelming volume of public comments supporting more transparency. But ultimately, it offered the opposite.

Tate acknowledged the restricted disclosure when the rule was issued on May 1. "Details about rail shipments of crude oil and ethanol will be made exempt from public disclosure," he wrote then. "Instead, railroads will share information directly with emergency responders, but it will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and state public records laws, the way other hazardous materials such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia are currently protected."

The restriction on access comes as a surprise as the Department of Transportation had rebuffed a request from two rail industry groups to end the reporting requirement as noted in the Federal Register last October: 

(A) this time, DOT finds no basis to conclude that the public disclosure of the information is detrimental to transportation safety. DOT has consulted with the Department of Homeland Security and TSA.

In addition, a May 2014 emergency rule had expanded public access to the rail routing information for the more volatile Bakken crude.

"The final rule ends the existing disclosure requirements next March," writes Tate on June 25. "Railroads no longer would be required to provide information to the states, leaving emergency responders to request details about oil train shipments on their own, and the public would be shut out entirely."

Thursday, June 25, 2015 in McClatchy Washington Bureau

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